An Australian business with global scale

In it for the long haul: How International Cargo Express has grown for 30 years.

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5 min read
A great team culture has kept this small business, ICE Cargo, growing and on the move in the freight forwarding industry.

The average company lifespan is just 15 years in today’s fast-changing business landscape, yet AGL customer International Cargo Express (ICE) celebrated its 30th birthday last year. We spoke with ICE Director and Melbourne Branch Manager John Mangiafico about how this freight forwarding company continues to thrive.

Australia’s importers and exporters depend on customs brokers and freight forwarding agencies to keep their goods moving between countries. And from dog food to gas processing components or even train carriages, no product is too big or complex for ICE to handle – and no time frame too challenging.

John Mangiafico with wife, Ivana, and son Marcus, at the Daily Cargo News Awards where Marcus was commended as a young achiever in the cargo industry.

John opened ICE’s Melbourne branch in 1989, just a year after its Sydney office was founded. By 1993, the company was handling heavy cargo for a tunnel boring project, and in 1994 obtained a customs licence. “It gave us the ability to clear customs goods on arrival, with full flexibility of end to end movement for our customers,” explains John.

He says the decision to expand into Queensland in 2001 and Western Australia in 2002 was a major factor in the company’s growth.

“This gave us full coverage of the Australian market, making it easier for our overseas agents with one central accounting system – and assurance their interests were well looked after,” he explains.

A small business with big ideas

ICE punches well above its weight internationally as an Australian SME with 51 staff. Their efforts to go above and beyond to shift 700,000 kg of pet food cargo for Royal Canin led to a nomination for the Project Forwarding Award in the Global Freight Awards in 2018 – and ICE has been nominated again in 2019.

“We chartered three full Boeing 777 aircraft and one Boeing 747 to help Royal Canin overcome stock shortages, working with French, Australian and New Zealand authorities to move smoothly through customs and quarantine,” John explains. “I’ve been in this industry for over 40 years, and I’d never met one person who’d chartered an aircraft. So it was quite a learning curve, and great for myself and my team.”

ICE then chartered 10 aircraft in 2018 – moving over 1.4 million kilos of product from Europe to Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane.

Over the next four years, ICE will be responsible for bringing in more than 580 carriages to run NSW’s new Intercity fleet between Sydney, the Central Coast, Wollongong, and Newcastle.

John says technology plays a big part in the business’s success today. “And it will only get bigger. Everyone wants to know where their items are, so the visibility of containers and aircraft is increasingly important.”

The people behind ICE’s success

John says running any successful business ultimately comes down to your staff. He happily admits he still loves what he does four decades on, and he’s not the only team member with such extensive experience.

“I feel like every month I’m giving out an award for 10 or 15 years of service,” he says. “I’m so fortunate that the people I’ve got with me have been here from virtually day one.”

This consistency is crucial. “I believe having a stable workforce creates security for the clients we service,” he says. And retaining staff has a lot to do with the personalised workplace culture he has built over the years.

“No two staff members are the same. You need to understand their specific needs. Staff appreciate acknowledgment when they work beyond their set tasks, but I also supplement that verbal ‘thank you’ with dinner vouchers, travel and financial rewards – I believe that’s important,” he says.

Training, along with other ways to give his team scope for further development, is also crucial. “This helps get people motivated, not just in what they’re doing but also understanding what else is out there, and what other experiences they can bring back into the office.”

The energy to deal with business challenges

Moving freight is a serious business. But making time for fun is also important to John. A passionate Melbourne Victory club member, he was thrilled to win AGL’s Melbourne Victory Luncheon competition this year – a money-can’t-buy private dinner with the team for John and his wife, Ivana.

“It was an amazing night, we felt really special. There was Leigh Broxham, Robbie Kruse and Lawrence Thomas, and their stories were just so entertaining.” Hearing firsthand accounts of what it takes to play at the top of their game – and push through devastating injuries – made for an inspiring night.

John and Ivana with MVFC members Robbie Kruse, Leigh Broxham and Lawrence Thomas.

John says he also encourages his team to make time for the things that “energise them when they get to the office.” For him, it’s going to the gym every morning.

“In our line of work, we’ve always got hurdles to get through. For example, we’re coming up to the stink bug season, which causes grief from September through May for imports into Australia.”

Special documentation and fumigation is often needed to ensure this pest doesn’t wipe out Australia’s agricultural industry. “It’s a real threat and needs to be taken seriously, but sometimes it’s hard for clients to understand,” he admits.

A sustainable approach to energy efficiency

John is also focused on energy use at home and at work. “We installed solar panels at home around four years ago, and then I realised how much more energy we use in the office. So I quickly got them organised in our building. All our lighting is LED now as well, and staff are encouraged to switch it off if it’s not in use.”

He says they’ve been proud to use AGL as their energy provider from day one. “It’s been great. I’ve never had any issues, and my staff have close relationships with them. We’ve been working with them for 30 years, and I have no doubt the journey will continue as we continue to grow.”

At ICE, there’s a strong sense of loyalty amongst its staff, clients and partners – and there’s no doubt this is the difference John’s business brings to the demanding and increasingly complex world of freight forwarding.


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